Is Forest’s transfer sluggishness paying dividends?

It’s that time when the transfer window is  starting to creak closed – and so the rumours go into overdrive.  I’ve long since opted to try my best not to rehash them, because – well – frankly often when I have passed on information I’ve heard in the past it has turned out to be wrong – and, frankly, I’d rather just wait until Forest confirm whatever’s happening.

Certainly I’ve not bothered reading much into Billy’s “let’s see what the next day or two brings” type comment to Robin Chipperfield – you see, aside from the assumption that deals are imminent for the mighty Reds, our wee fella has plenty of things to be cheerful about.

2011 has seen Forest register an impressive run of results, and despite the mythology surrounding our own fans around the strength in depth in our squad, I can’t help but notice a number of managers commenting on the kind of quality we have on the bench.  Not only are we starting games with a line-up that can cause any side in this division difficulties, we have players waiting in the wings who can come on and make a difference.

Cotterill said it after we beat Portsmouth at the City Ground (unsurprisingly really, he could only name four subs!), although I couldn’t help but think that was a bit rich coming from someone able to call on the likes of Kanu, Utaka and Lawrence, to pick on just three of their squad who showed real quality on the pitch.

Nigel Clough, amidst his rabid-foaming after either of our recent wins against them pointed at some fanciful figures at how much we’d spent on players, but did have a reasonable point that we had players on the bench to change things.  Earnie came off the bench to net the winner at Pride Park afterall.  He not only had a bench full of second-rate players, he had to start with them too!

The latest manager to do the same was Bristol City’s Keith Millen – after the game he too said the same kind of thing.  Yet perusing most of the notable Forest forums our fans seem to be clamouring like ants after a mound has been kicked for us to be signing players from here, there and everywhere.

I can sort of see why – it’s exciting to sign players, of course – and oddly we do seem to be ‘getting by’ with players playing in positions you wouldn’t expect them to thrive in.  Lynch has stepped up admirably to fill the left back berth, we still seem to have an extra central midfielder and only one winger at any one time, and we’d be a bit screwed if certain players picked up a suspension or injury…

… but it’s kind of working.  It’s kind of working, I think, because of the increasingly evident team spirit our squad seem to have.  They are a very tight group, they work for each other – they seem to care.  Would that be the same if we hoovered up every loan, free transfer or even paid-for transfer available just to get some bodies in?

I’m not sure it would – indeed, Billy Davies – much more calm and good natured in recent interviews – does talk of the need to make sure that we get the right players in.  He doesn’t just mean players with the right ability, but the right character to not upset the dressing room spirit he’s engendered in his players.

That isn’t to say I wouldn’t welcome sensible acquisitions before the window closes, of course.  Some clarification over players out of contract in the summer would be nice for the fans – although the recent performances of Nathan Tyson, Robert Earnshaw and particularly Guy Moussi would suggest that playing for a contract isn’t necessarily doing us much harm!

Down the A52 it looks like ex-Red Kris Commons is heading north of the border finally, to don the green and white hoops of Celtic having audaciously priced himself outside of Rangers’ spending power!  Ultimately he seems to leave teams beneath the one he left them for – Stoke soon overtook us when we signed him, and as he leaves Derby they must strain to look up the league table to us.

Once the deal is done have a bet on Rangers to win the Scottish Premier next season as he sends Lennon’s Celtic into decline, where of course he’ll be joined by his former team-mate Kelvin Wilson, who the Reds seem keen to keep hold of until the end of the season for cover (when he doesn’t have a mystery ‘injury’ or ‘illness’).

I wasn’t really sure where I was going with this when I started – it’s very much a stream of consciousness mingled with observations.  Basically I suppose it’s a warning of sorts against the kind of panic that always ensues at this time of year.  Certainly if you were to hand me a Bertrand or a Shorey I’d be delighted (with no disrespect to Mr Lynch)… but well, things ain’t so bad as they are, are they?

Chambers ‘header’ bags three points!

Nottingham Forest – 1
Bristol City – 0

On a day when elevation to the Premier League became even more enticing after the sacking of Andy Gray as a pundit by Sky Sports, the Reds welcomed Bristol City to the City Ground on a chilly rainy evening.  Our visitors were competent whilst unadventurous, opting to defend their 0-0 draw and hit on the break.  Winning this game-in-hand over teams has moved us within a point of the automatic promotion picture.

The low tuesday night crowd, probably cut down by people desperately awaiting that post-Christmas pay packet coupled with the understandably small following from the West Country didn’t generate much of an atmosphere, and in response – depending on whether you think the crowd is the chicken or the egg (and indeed, which needs to come to life first), it often struggled to ‘get going’ on the pitch.

Billy altered things a smidge after the weekend’s game at Derby County, but not a great deal, returning Tys to a wide berth and withdrawing Anderson for Earnshaw who slotted in up front with Tudgay:

Gunter    Morgan    Chambers    Lynch
Tyson    Moussi    Cohen    McGugan
Tudgay    Earnshaw

Walking back to the car post-match we decided it was a comfortable game for the most part, but one where – similarly to against Derby at the weekend – the final ball was lacking somewhat to get a decent chance to test David James.  City utilised their pacey players to hit us on the break, and in truth they probably should have done better with the opportunities they had too.

Forest lost the toss and were made to swap ends, although it was the Reds who started brightest.  The first serious opportunity arrived when Lynch was fouled around 25 yards from goal giving Lewis an early opportunity to ping a freekick – it was well struck and James made the save, parrying to Nathan Tyson who whipped the ball back across just evading Luke Chambers.

In between some dogged possession with Bristol City sitting deep, content to let Forest keep the ball, a delicious move save McGugan work his way inside from the left, whip a ball to Earnshaw who cleverly flicked the ball to Tudgay who hit a shot goalward bringing a save from James.  Without seeing it again I’d say Marcus should probably have done better with the chance.

City’s threat tended to be through either Campbell-Ryce or Adomah who were pacey and tricky, generally Lynch and Gunter marshalled them well but they did hit us with counter attacks on occasion.  After around 30 minutes one such break resulted in a poor attempt on goal which was a fairly routine save for Lee Camp.

Further almost-but-not-quite opportunities were carved out by Forest, good work from Gunter down the right saw the fullback whip in a cross which almost found Earnie, but – perhaps predictable – he was beaten in the air by the defender to get it clear.  Another chance went begging when Cohen slipped Tyson clear but his first touch let him down somewhat allowing Adomah to get it clear.

So half time felt okay.  It hadn’t been scintillating and after the bedlam of the weekend the atmosphere was definitely a little on the flat side, but whilst not exactly over-working David James the Reds had enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and we’ve seen before that sides that come to the City Ground these days to spoil don’t generally get much from it.

It only took three minutes to breach the goal at the Bridgford End.  A foul on Tudgay gave us a freekick which was whipped in with pace by Chris Cohen, on the end of which I think was Bristol City defender who headed it, then Luke Chambers headed it onto his own shoulder before it crossed the line agonisingly slowly much to the annoyance of James in the City goal.  Scrappy, but no less enjoyable as a result!

This development forced the visitors to change their gameplan somewhat – and to their credit they did start to pose more of a threat on our goal.  A shot from Adomah from range looked to be fairly routine for Camp but either a momentary lapse of concentration from him or a swerve saw him readjust at the last minute and have to resort to conceding a corner.

Campbell-Ryce was looking threatening in the attack with a bit of pace and trickery – but ultimately offered no end product when presented with an opportunity.  Billy made an unpredictable change here, withdrawing Tyson for McCleary – although, given his workrate at the weekend I was surprised to see Nath starting tonight it has to be said.

Bristol City continued to seek ways back into the match, a great opportunity fell to Adomah who had a clear sight of goal from just inside the area but blazed over when really he should be at least forcing Camp into action.  Gradually Forest worked their way back into the game though, and Moussi – who’d been winning everything in midfield (sometimes having lost it in the first place, granted!) whipped a tantalising ball in which Earnie was close to connecting with in the area.

Another opportunity fell to Earnshaw from range who elected to try to beat David James – slightly out of position – from long range, ultimately it wasn’t  a great attempt and there were passes on too.  That said we’d be lauding him if it had come off, so let’s not be too harsh!  Moments later he did well breaking forward and cut the ball back to McGugan who was literally ambling into the area, the midfielder lacked composure though and blasted it well over the bar.

Big Dele and McGoldrick were introduced for Tudgay and Earnshaw respectively – the former getting a warm reception from the City fans who’d made the trip.  The two later subs combined to get the ball to McGugan in the box, but Skuse was on hand to block his effort.  Moments later he’d done well to get into position in the area from a tight angle, but his powerful cross-cum-shot was safely gathered by James.

Deep into stoppage time there was a slight flutter of hearts when City won a freekick in a dangerous position and it wasn’t cleared immediately, but eventually McCleary was able to take the ball clear and into a corner to wind the clock down a little with the referee blowing for time moments later giving the Reds the win that, whilst not a classic, their performance had warranted.

So that’s one game in hand out the way and with maximum points achieved and excellent result for the boys.  Whilst we only climb one place to fifth we are only one point behind fourth, third and second – and already with superior goal difference to them.  And with a game in hand over all of them (two games over Swansea).  Of course, games in hand are worth nowt ’til they’re played.

We have to play a fair few of those teams above us too – so this generally cautious fan isn’t getting too carried away yet.  I’m also not getting carried away with Billy Davies’ post-match comments with Robin Chipperfield.  When quizzed about transfers Billy wasn’t his usual curt self, rather than the usual “you’ll have to ask someone else” type responses he said “No news yet, but lets’s see what the next couple of days brings!”

This has prompted the usual speculation – I suspect he just meant that the January window has a couple (well, more than a couple) of days left to go and to wait and see.  Others interpret it more hopefully – certainly Billy was in a very good mood in the interview, but you would expect that when he’s seen his side notch yet another cracking result to keep our push towards the right end of the table going!